Cities rejoin county homeless program

After a prolonged period of belt-tightening, Burbank and Glendale are ditching a winter homeless shelter that was retooled last year to serve only local referrals — one that dramatically reduced the total number of beds that had historically been available to transients from surrounding areas.

The two cities had dropped the L.A. County shelter system in favor of funding their own, smaller winter program to limit the influx of transients, but that move sparked fears among other shelters in Pasadena and Santa Clarita that the burden would fall on them to pick up the slack. But after a year of sagging revenues and paper thin budgets, Burbank and Glendale have decided to return to the system funded by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which requires shelters to accept all homeless clients on a first-come, first-served basis.

Nobody knows what the response from the homeless community will be.

“It’s hard to know until it actually happens,” said Natalie Profant Komuro, executive director of Ascencia, the homeless services provider that took on running the 90-day shelter this year after Glendale and Burbank had no money to go it alone again.

While the 80-bed operation will be smaller than the 150 beds historically offered at the Glendale National Guard Armory, the decision to move back into the county fold was greeted with relief by neighboring shelters.

Last year, the cities cobbled together $151,000 to break away from the Los Angeles County regional winter shelter system to run a 50-bed program open only to people referred by local nonprofits.

City officials also ponied up the money in an attempt to permanently house some of the shelter clients. But with no money to repeat the experiment this year, the cities stepped aside and let Ascencia apply for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority emergency shelter program.

It’s still possible that because of last year’s restrictions, the shelter won’t be a regional magnet when it opens Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m., Profant Komuro said. And although Ascencia has been doing outreach in Burbank, she doesn’t expect many transients there to come to the Glendale armory, even if it means a roof and a hot meal.

“People feel safe in Burbank. It’s what they know,” Profant Komuro said.

Still, nearby homeless service providers are calling the change a welcome relief.

Pat O’Reilly, executive director of the Ecumenical Council Pasadena Area Congregations, said her winter shelter last year was overwhelmed as a result of the smaller operation in Glendale, with about 40 additional people seeking a bed each night compared to the year prior.

Last year, the Ecumenical Council provided a place to sleep for up to 220 people a night, well above their 180-person capacity.

“This is good news for us,” O’Reilly said of the larger Glendale operation planned for this winter. “I think we’re going to be full, hopefully we won’t be overly full.”

Pasadena had given the Ecumenical Council $60,000 each year to operate the shelter, a sum buttressed by community donations. But this year, Pasadena cut city funding, O’Reilly turned to the county agency, which gave the group a $100,000 grant to be used over four years.

“That makes all the difference in the world for now,” O’Reilly said, adding that she had to spend extra money to rent another church room and hire more staff to handle last year’s crowd.

Santa Clarita and Sylmar didn’t report the same kind of overflow impact, which had been feared when the change was made last year.

While Pasadena did feel a pinch, Profant Komuro said most of the homeless who couldn’t stay at the Glendale armory last year likely slept wherever it was they felt safe, such as parks around town or shelters in Los Angeles.

“We’re talking about people who are survivors,” she said. “They will find something that works best for them.”

If the revamped Glendale shelter this year doesn’t fill up, that won’t be hard to correct.

“If we don’t have enough people, we certainly know where we can go and find them,” Profant Komuro said.

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